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Tallinn schools piloting open source software

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Legacy software continues to throw up roadblocks

Schools in the city of Tallinn (Estonia) are gradually moving to PC workstations running on free and open source software. A pilot in March 2014 switched 3 schools and 2 kindergartens. Students, teachers, school administration and kindergartens’ staff members are using LibreOffice, Ubuntu-Linux and other open source tools.

The transition has helped the city to save tens of thousands of EUR in proprietary licence fees.

By September 2015, the Tallinn Education Board had implemented Ubuntu-Linux on 4000 of the in total 6000 workstations and laptops that it manages across the 50 schools in the city. Most of these hosts are dual boot, allowing users to switch between a proprietary operating system and Ubuntu.

The city administration decided to switch to free and open source alternatives, to avoid ‘exponential increases’ in fees for proprietary software licences, the city wrote in January 2015.

“LibreOffice is used daily in most schools and kindergartens”, says Kätlin Kalde, one of the education board members. However, a few schools, struggling with the change, purchased licences for proprietary office suites. Interoperability problems and restance to change caused a few teachers and head masters to protest, however, meeting at the end of the pilot all schools decided to continue.

The Tallinn Education Board will in the future include Linux and LibreOffice support in its IT contracts, and procurement requests, Kalde says.

Butterknife

The city is getting support from Alvatal (Avatud Lähtekoodiga ja Vaba Tarkvara Liit) the Estonian Free and Open-Source Software Association. The non-profit organisation is documenting its software and configuration choices, and helps schools decide on compatible peripherals such as printers.

The switch is in tandem with the modernisation of the Tallinn Education Board procedures, explains Alvatal board member Lauri Võsandi. Most of the board’s services and procedures can now be managed online, using web services. This has eased the switch to Ubuntu, Võsandi says.

In addition to the change management issues, the biggest obstacles that prevent users from using 100% free software are PDF-s encumbered with proprietary extensions, battery performance of laptops running Ubuntu, and networking issues caused by Broadcom chipsets that lack decent Linux-support, the software developer says.

To help Tallinn install the Linux desktops and laptops, and for his Masters thesis at university, he developed Butterknife. The software blends Linux containers and Btrfs, a disk cloning solution. Butterknife is meant to be combined with configuration management tools such as Puppet or Salt.

Barricades

As of late, a Tallinn-based publishing house is throwing a new spanner in the migration project. The company’s popular e-Tund computer-aided teaching tool will only run on legacy proprietary operating systems.

 

More information:

Announcement by the city of Tallinn (in Estonian)
City of Tallinn’s school licence analysis (PDF, in Estonian)
Delfi news item (in Estonian)
Koolielu news item (in Estonian)
Tallinn French Lyceum statement on its use of free and open source software (in Estonian)
Butterknife